The Logic Of Self-Righteousness

“[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”

Luke 18:9

Jesus warned us about self-righteousness. 

He made it clear to us that trusting in our own righteousness would never bring us into a right relationship with God.

He also made the connection that practicing self-righteousness will lead to treating others with contempt. 

In Luke 18:9-14 says:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

The Logic Of Self-Righteousness

Jesus came to live a perfect life for us, fulfilling God’s perfect standard of righteousness for us where we never could. 

But for Christ’s perfect righteousness to make any difference in our lives, we first need to acknowledge the futility of our own righteousness and repent of it. To trust in Christ’s righteousness, we need to let go of our self-righteousness because you can’t embrace both at the same time. 

If God is the standard of righteousness, then when we pursue self-righteousness, what we’re doing is making ourselves the standard of all that is right and good instead of God. So when we’re being self-righteous, we’re really saying that if someone doesn’t act like me, then they’re not righteous. So we’re putting ourselves in God’s place. 

There are many ways that self-righteousness rears its ugly head, but one common way is that when we’re pursuing self-righteousness we will most often do so by building our own righteousness on the backs of other people, just like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. 

That usually looks like us being hyper-critical and pointing out all the ways other people fail to live up to our own standard. We point out other people’s mistakes, but not just to them directly. We usually point out their mistakes to anyone and everyone else we come in contact with too. 

What’s often happening in our hearts when we do this is that we think that by tearing down other people, we’ll somehow then stand a little higher than them in God’s eyes and therefore be approved more by God, like it’s a contest or something. 

That’s the logic of self-righteousness. The logic of self-righteousness says, “I’m not secure, so I need to rip other people down to feel more secure about myself before God.” 

The Logic Of Grace

But look at the difference trusting in Christ’s righteousness makes in our lives. 

If we are in Christ, God already sees us with Christ’s perfect righteousness, meaning we’re already as secure in God as we’ll ever be. When we’re in Christ, nothing we do will make us more secure or accepted or loved by God. And nothing we do will make less secure, accepted, or loved by God. When we’re in Christ, God too says of us because of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us by faith, “This is my beloved son [or daughter], with whom I am well pleased.” 

That means when we’re in Christ, we’re now free from thinking we need to undercut and tear other people down so that we might look better before God. 

We’re set free from being hyper-critical about everything. 

We’re set free from that burden of self-righteousness and building our own righteousness on the backs of other people’s failures. 

We’re free to instead just live to build people up and help them come to a place of knowing and worshiping and understanding their place in Christ also. 

That’s the logic of the gospel. That’s the logic of grace. The logic of grace says, “I’m secure with God because of Christ, so I can now build others up and help them become secure in Christ too.”

Grasping this logic is not just critical for us as individual Christians. It’s immensely important for every local church. We need to foster and nurture cultures of grace within our congregations where our focus is building each other up by guiding all people as deeply as we can into the truth and practice of the gospel. 

This article was adapted from a sermon called, “Jesus Fulfills Where We Fail.

Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash

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